News Interview: Jeff Apodaca Dishes On Issues Including Education And Taxes

Jeff Apodaca Dishes On Issues Including Education And Taxes

August March
8 min read
Jeff Apodaca
(Eric Williams Photography)
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Most political aspirations fade upon defeat. A host of Democratic wannabes stretches through the history of this state and everyone of them, from Diane Denish to Phil Maloof knows the swan song that often accompanies such final, determinative acts.

Ah well, there’s always a place in the party, a speaking engagement here or there or even, perhaps a nascent business interest to be positively developed while the roar of the crowd fades into reality.

Unless you are Jeff Apodaca. The son of a former governor, a successful broadcast executive—and of late, one of the fellows who lost a bid to campaign in the general election for the state’s top political and leadership position—continues to find himself in the political crosshairs.

That’s probably because a lot of what he says is relevant. Relevant despite an ongoing beef with Democratic officials who wish he would see it their way or just go away. It’s Michelle Lujan Grisham or the highway, they seem to be saying to a man whose demonstrated acumen on a variety of subjects from economics and investment to education reform should be cause for inclusion at the party that’s making the roundhouse particularly merry this year.

Apodaca, it seems, can’t be turned away from offering his accumulated wisdom to the people of the state. Sometimes contentious, on occasion sorta ornery and always with something important and well-developed on his mind, the former candidate continues to hew away at the establishment, providing his advice and ideas to those who would listen and for a state that is still in the throes of massive change, even after a Democrat victory in November.

Apodaca’s ideas have continued to appear on his various and popular social media feeds and recently from the veritable castle for contrarians—the
TJ Trout Show—to offer his sometimes prescient and always articulate views to the citizens of the city and the state.

Weekly Alibi spent a snowy morning at Starbucks near 12th Street chatting with cancer survivor and former Lobo Football quarterback Jeff Apodaca about the issues, taking in his vibe and veracity as the winter continued and the smell of roasted coffee beans filled the air.

Of course he had plenty to say—more than allowed here on a measly page—and that’s why this is just part one of a lengthy conversation filled with ideas that come from the heart of
Nuevo Mexico, transcribed just the way you like it, all hot and relevant, ese.

(Disclosure: My mother went to high school in Las Cruces and was friends with Jeff’s father, Jerry, the former governor. Jerry Apodaca attended my father’s funeral in 2002. It’s a small state,

Weekly Alibi: Could you tell our readers your story, please?

Jeff Apodaca: They might recognize the name, Apodaca. My father was governor in the ’70s. I was very fortunate to grow up as a governor’s kid. That didn’t really draw me to politics though. I actually spent 32 years in the entertainment business. I started right here at channel 4 in 1986. Two years later, I was fortunate enough to go to New York City for CBS Sports, in various positions. Then at AOL and Univision. I married a gal from Albuquerque and we ended up moving back here, gosh about 10 years ago now. I had no intention to go into politics.

But you ended up running for governor.

As you had said earlier, after the election that I lost to Lujan Grisham, that I didn’t go away, I didn’t fade away. And that was part of the whole plan. Everywhere we’ve lived, whether it’s New York, LA or Albuquerque, we’ve always been involved with the community.

And despite all of your engagements all over the country and with other urban communities, I read that you’ve consistently been involved with things here in the state.

I’m a cancer survivor of over 40 years. My wife and I started a foundation here, 20 years ago to help cancer-stricken kids. We started a scholarship fund for cancer-stricken kids and their nurses. We also built out the multimedia center [at the hospital] to provide education and entertainment for patients during treatment.

What happened when you moved back to Burque?

We moved back here 10 years ago and I was very disappointed in our state leaders, on both sides, and the direction of our state. There is no reason our state should be 50th. We’re sitting on $2 billion in investment funds. I’m amazed, that before the campaign, no one realized we had that type of money.

Now that was a very unique idea that you presented: Despite this state’s supposed poverty, despite our state’s desperate need to improve infrastructure, we do actually have funds available for vast improvements to begin.

We are the third largest, the third wealthiest state in the union. But we choose to live in poverty. And I say choose because political leaders, on both sides and over the years, have chosen for us to live in poverty.

According to both the former state auditors, Tim Keller and Wayne Johnson, we have nearly $2 billion of capital outlay—sitting in banks—that have been allocated out. But the way we allocate it out is problematic. There aren’t enough funds to do any one project at 100 percent. So that money just sits in the bank.

Rather than being used for smaller projects?

Those monies sit in our banks for almost six and a half years, collecting interest for the banks and making the state a few million dollars per year.

So we’re not actually putting that money to use?

My proposal has always been, instead of doing a 1,000 capital outlay projects at 25 percent, why don’t we do 100 projects and engage them completely, making sure we’re putting schools first.

How did that idea play out in the recent APS bond elections?

People were initially surprised that I was against APS increasing our property taxes, on average, 19 percent.

We initially supported the measures, but the more we found out about the tax increase the less we were able to support them. When the Rio Grande Foundation came out against the bond issues, when you began speaking to the issue, we had to say wait a minute. This amounts to a middle-class tax increase!

I’m not against raising taxes, but we should do so intelligently. To increase taxes on the typical Burqueño who’s got kids at APS—my two kids go to APS, so I’m all for supporting APS—a 19 percent average is just not going to work. When you talk to the experts about areas in the South Valley and on the Westside, you find there were some homes in the Latino community that would see 30 percent to 40 percent increases in property tax.

That sounds egregious, given our city’s tenuous economic status.

I’ve had Democratic, progressive friends of mine who’ve said, “Jeff, I can’t believe you don’t support this tax increase.” They’re trying to envision me as someone who doesn’t support schools, but my kids go to APS. My issue is this: We have close to $2 billion of capital outlay funds in state coffers. That outlay is to be used to invest in infrastructure, our schools, roads and bridges. Let’s look at those allocations first. On average, when you look at capital outlay, Bernalillo County gets 50 to 52 percent. It’s the biggest metropolitan area in the state. But we’re sitting on $2 billion. I went on the radio and asked the board, asked the superintendent to join me in a conversation about that. They refused.

What’s your proposal in that regard?

My proposal is that, before we start raising property taxes to the tune of 19 or more percent, why not look at our tax revenue that’s already been collected. It’s already in the bank. Let’s put that to work. And yes, you need all of the legislators, the House and the Senate, as well as the governor, to approve such a move.

The governor’s number one plank the platform is education. The governor can allocate a third of that $2 billion toward any project she wants. That’s how the budget works. In the capital outlay budget, the governor gets a third, the Senate gets a third and the House gets a third. What happens is that they are afraid to say no to anybody. So basically everyone puts in a request and they all get accepted. But the number of proposals outweigh the amount of funding. So instead of keeping up with projects, they put them aside. Sometimes it takes six years to actually get the funding for a capital outlay project.

In the meantime, buildings age, the physical structure of our public schools becomes more fragile by the day, don’t you think?

Yes. So before we start raising taxes, let’s look at using capital outlay funds the right way. These projects can’t wait.

(Editor’s note: Join us again two weeks from today when we continue our conversation with Mr. Apodaca).
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